Album Review: MAPS & ATLASES – Beware And Be Grateful
Some may say they’ve mellowed over the years since their technicality-proficient math rock beginnings, but those who would mark the transition of Chicago’s MAPS & ATLASES from percussion-heavy band of electric rock guitar riffs to acoustic guitar-fronted finger-picked 32nd notes as “mellowing” would be mistaken.
Though they do have a tendency to write with a progressive state of mind as far as their layered musical constructs go, with their latest release Beware And Be Grateful, the indie rock quartet achieve that ever-escaping accessibility factor toward which so many prog bands strive yet often come just shy.
Right out of the gate: the production work on Beware & Be Grateful – their third full-length album – is masterful. Opening track Old & Gray ultimately acts as a prolonged lead-in intro to second track Fever but it really also serves as a biopsy-like examination for the album as a whole: showcasing the band’s swirling vocal ranges (often in densely layered choir-like harmonies).
If this would your first exposure to the band, both Fever and subsequent track Winter really strike a solid pop-rock chord and would be your best entry point: they’re catchy as hell and have this underlain feelgood vibe that would surely make you want to get up and dance.
Remote And Dark Years is easily the most mainstream of tracks to be found on Beware & Be Grateful, clocking in under the three-minute mark and showcasing a brooding-vocaled Dave Davison that wouldn’t feel out of place on a newer PEARL JAM effort, while the rhythmically-fronted and guitar-effect laden Silver Self serves as a great mid-album change of pace to keep the listener on his/her toes before diving into the straight-up alt-rock anthem Vampires.
Be Three Years Old sort of drifts towards the “mash a couple of disparate song ideas together into one cohesive track” method of songwriting (ZEPPELIN’s Stairway To Heaven is the best example of this). This works out ok, though not nearly as well as other tracks on the release.
Bugs helps to really push that musical technicality for which the band has become known to the forefront, with a flamenco-style acoustic guitar flare that could justifiably put some metal bands to shame in the shredding department. Likewise, the inclusion of kettle drums on Penultimate track Old Ash really helps to showcase a little more variety from MAPS & ATLASES and makes this latest effort feel even more like a little adventure on the high seas which coincides nicely with their namesake.
Final track Important is a slow number that might end up leaving the listener in a state of solumn reflection or even despondence by the time the album comes to a close, and would likely have been better book-ended somewhere in the middle of the release, but alas MAPS & ATLASES have never really been a band to conform to expectations.
Beware And Be Grateful is an interesting album from start to finish, and it makes for a great chill listen on a summer evening. While the album itself isn’t awe-inspiring as a whole, there are definitely ample toe-tap worthy moments to partake in as the journey unfolds; perhaps signs that their real musical masterpiece is still just over the horizon.